An influential National Assembly Committee, chaired by Montgomeryshire Assembly Member, Russell George, has this week debated the Welsh Government’s response to its recommendations into Digital Infrastructure in Wales.
Earlier this year, the National Assembly’s Economy, Infrastructure & Skills Committee conducted an inquiry to consider the barriers to broadband and mobile connectivity and the innovative steps which the Welsh Government can take to resolve ongoing connectivity issues across the country, particularly in rural Wales.
Leading the debate on the Government’s response to the committee’s recommendations, Mr George said: “The committee’s recommendations will help Wales to develop a digital infrastructure which is fast, reliable and fit for the future so I was pleased that the Welsh Government broadly accepted our proposals. But it’s now action which is required from the government.
“Among the recommendations, the committee calls on the Welsh Government to consider ways to connect the last four percent of Wales who remain without broadband access, and to improve mobile phone coverage across the country.
“While it is good news that more and more people are getting connected at increasingly high speeds, a consequence of this improvement is that a frustration and a sense of injustice grows in those left behind. It is essential that people are not left in the lurch.
“As the Superfast Cymru project comes to an end, there are many lessons the Welsh Government must learn and I will be looking for the Government to provide cast-iron guarantees that predominantly rural premises who are yet to receive any benefit from this project will be included as part of a successor scheme or at the very least given clarity that they are not going to be served so that homeowners and businesses can move on and make alternative arrangements.
“One of the ways in which the Welsh Government can do this is to consider establishing a repayable grant or equity scheme to allow small operators to fill broadband gaps.
“Turning to mobile connectivity, the Welsh Government has a range of measures in its armoury to support investment in digital connectivity including reform to the planning regime to make it easier to roll out infrastructure on publicly owned land and in offering non-domestic rates relief for new masts in non-commercial areas to facilitate the rollout of essential mobile infrastructure which will deliver widespread coverage.
“It is now time for the Welsh Government to work with the industry, local government and the regulator to put these recommendations into action so that Wales can lead the way when it comes to digital connectivity rather than playing catch up.”
The National Assembly for Wales Committee for Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Report into Digital Infrastructure can be found here: http://www.assembly.wales/laid%20documents/cr-ld11185/cr-ld11185-e.pdf
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